SkyTrain service outages costly: leaked business plan

TransLink’s SkyTrain and West Coast Express subsidiary ran over its $232.4 million budget by $2.1 million last year.

The B.C. Rapid Transit Company’s 2015 business plan said it cost $234.5 million in 2014 to operate and maintain the Expo and Millennium lines and commuter railway and pay for service on the SNC-Lavalin-operated Canada Line.

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“The overrun was mainly attributed to increased front line staffing levels after the two anomalous major service disruptions in July 2014 and the need to respond to possible such events, as well as increased escalator maintenance,” said the business plan, obtained by the Courier.

The automated Expo and Millennium lines shut down for more than five hours last July 17 because of a circuit board failure and again July 21 after a power outage caused by human error.

The business plan said SkyTrain infrastructure “began to show its age” in 2013, leading to more frequent service disruptions. More breakdowns and service disruptions were identified as a risk to 2015 operations. 

“SkyTrain’s infrastructure is aging, resulting in additional unscheduled repairs,” said the section on risks and challenges. “Such incidents could result in increased customer service disruptions, delays due to resources and parts constraints and additional costs.”

Almost 10 per cent of TransLink’s proposed $7.7 billion expansion plan includes upgrades to the 1985-opened Expo and 2002-opened Millennium lines. Metro Vancouver’s non-binding, mail-in plebiscite ends May 29 on whether to help fund the plan by hiking the Provincial Sales Tax from 7 per cent to 7.5 per cent.

The report said BCRTC beefed-up emergency shutdown and evacuation plans by the end of 2014 and is implementing the advice of the McNeil Independent Review of the July 2014 outages, which recommended $71 million in capital upgrades.

“Some of the enhancements will have immediate impacts and others may take five to 10 years to fully implement,” the business plan said.

The McNeil recommendations, preparation for the fall 2016 Evergreen Line extension and the late and over budget Compass card and fare gates system are catalysts for 200 new hires in the next 18 months. Although the report said that Compass would be rolled out in 2015, there remains a risk that it could be further delayed and “result in additional ticket vending machine operation and maintenance costs or additional unbudgeted resources may be required to effectively operate the system.”

The budget for the April 2009-announced anti-fare evasion measure has nearly doubled to $194 million. It was supposed to be in service in 2013. Cubic Transportation Systems invited local politicians to an April 8 reception and technology demonstration, but the Seasons in the Park event was cancelled less than a week earlier.

The business plan said Compass priorities for 2015 include: Hiring and training customer service attendants, developing emergency response and evacuation plans before fare gates go into service, implementing the Brentwood Monitoring Centre, finalizing changes to the Canada Line agreement and educating customers on Compass use.

It is not clear when TransLink will release its 2014 annual report. The statutory annual general meeting is traditionally in the last week of May. “We have not finalized the date of our AGM,” spokeswoman Cheryl Ziola said May 8.

The provincial law that governs TransLink said it must give the public a minimum two weeks’notice of the AGM, which must be held before the end of June. The annual report must be published no later than 10 days before the AGM. TransLink’s board, which meets behind closed doors, is scheduled to meet June 25.

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